European warning labels questionable

UM – 02/2023

Ireland wants to warn with highly visible health warnings on bottles of alcoholic beverages – but some countries are protecting their alcohol industry. Alcohol consumption causes liver disease, harms unborn children and is associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan

Therefore, the European Commission has also planned to reduce harmful alcohol consumption within the framework of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. Among other things, by placing appropriate warnings on the labels of wine, beer and spirits bottles. The European Commission originally wanted to make a proposal on this by the end of the current year. Following the controversial discussion of the Beating Cancer Plan in the European Parliament last year on this very point, it had initially dropped this intention.

Headwind expected

The discussions in the Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) as well as the vote in the plenary session last February on a report that was watered down in the end had clearly shown the resilience of the lobby of winegrowers, beer brewers and distillers. They insist on a responsible handling of the "cultural asset alcohol". However, the World Health Organisation rejects that alcohol consumption can also be harmless (see also News 2/2022).

Warning against trade barriers

These arguments are now being repeated in the case of Ireland. Added to this is the industry's accusation that the Irish government is undermining the common market and creating barriers to trade. In the end, the dispute would have to be taken to the World Trade Organisation, as the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) requires notification of all mandatory labelling standards that are not based on international standards and could affect trade. In January, the Italian Foreign Minister had called on the European Commission to take action in this regard (see here).

Brussels in a quandary

This puts the European Commission at unease as it had cleared the way for Ireland to introduce the new labels. Meanwhile, it is said to be in the process of gathering evidence on the efficiency and effectiveness of warning labels on the bottles and packaging of alcoholic beverages. According to Brussels media, however, no decision has yet been taken on the question of whether a European Commission proposal for warning labels on alcohol is to be expected.